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Five Beginner Tips for Off-Roading in Snow

Wintertime wheeling can be a fun activity during the cold months of the year. Whether you’re just wanting to test your new 4x4 in snow, try your hand at camping in sub-freezing temps, or simply take the family out for a fun day in some fresh powder, off-roading through snow can be a bit daunting at first. Here’s five tips for the absolute beginner on wheeling in snow.

Two CUV crossovers driving in the snow on Nitto Nomad Grappler tires

1. Bring the Right Gear

While every off-road adventure requires having the right gear for the trail and your destination, there’s a few items that are a bit more important to have on your list for snow wheeling. First a foremost, bring a shovel with you. You never know when you’ll need to dig some snow out from under your rig or your tires to keep moving. Having a winch is also highly beneficial, as it doesn’t depend on another vehicle to pull you out, risking getting a second rig stuck. Winching your way out of a situation with snow on the ground is in general a safer form of recovery. Also be sure to pack the right survival gear in the event that you do get stuck and have to spend a cold night in the vehicle. Warm clothes, blankets, extra food, water and gas should be the bare minimum. And last but not least, bring a buddy along. Having two rigs on the trail is much safer than going alone, and will greatly increase your chances of a getting back to pavement in the event of an emergency or mechanical problem.

Orange Subaru Crosstrek, White VW Alltrack and Blue Subaru Crosstrek driving through a trail in the new

2. Use the Correct Tires

Simply having four-wheel-drive doesn’t mean you can safely or easily drive through snow. Highway terrain or passenger car tires will do you no good in snowy trail conditions, no matter how little of it there may be. At the bare minimum, all-terrain tires, such as the Nitto Terra Grappler are required for any kind of wheeling through snow. Hybrid terrain tires and mud terrain tires such as the Ridge Grappler and Mud Grappler will do even better in snow, as they have wider gaps between the tread lugs, allowing for better grip. The Nitto Exo Grappler is a fantastic tire for snowy conditions, as it has the proper siping to provide extra traction in snow and icy weather. There are varying opinions on what air pressure to run when wheeling through snow, but we’ve found that airing down the tires does aid in traction on snow-covered trails. Be sure to have a method to air them back up when you hit pavement again.

Nitto Nomad Grappler tire covered in snow on a red Toyota Rav4

3. Read the Snow

Reading the snow on the ground means understanding what you’re driving on, and how your vehicle will react to it. If other rigs have already driven through a snow-covered trail, there’s a good chance that there are grooves or “ruts” carved into the snow where tires have previously rolled through. And while you might think that you’ll have better luck keeping your tires in these ruts, you may find that they’re trickier to traverse than fresh powder. When tires roll over snow, they compact and melt the snow under them, and that moisture then re-freezes into ice. These ruts can often times be very slick and icy, so if you’re having trouble making it through sections of the trail, try positioning your tires on fresh powder. Fresh powder compacts under your tires and is more “sticky” than these ruts, often helping you get better traction. Some trails become harder when there’s snow on the ground, and others will become easier as obstacles are filled in. Picking your lines carefully and knowing the surface you’re driving on will go a long way to getting you through the trail without issues.

The front of a car looking out over a snowy trail

4. Use Traction Aids

Sometimes, even having the right tires and four-wheel-drive isn’t enough to get you up a snowy incline or out of an obstacle. If your rig is equipped with a front or rear locker, be sure to engage them. Having all four tires spinning at the same rate can help keep you moving. It’s important to use your lockers before you get stuck, to minimize how much your rig gets buried. Additionally, if your rig is equipped with terrain modes for snow, using them can adjust your suspension and drivetrain to keep your momentum safe and constant.


White Jeep Cherokee on a snow berm

5. Adjust Your Driving Style

Lastly, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your driving style. It’s one thing to have a heavy foot in the dirt and have fun sliding around. In snow, this can spell disaster very quickly. Here are a few tips to adjust your driving style to keep you safe when snow wheeling.

  1. Keep steady momentum. Coming to a crawl or stop on any kind of incline will leave you dead in your tracks. If you must come to a stop, be sure it’s on level ground or a decline.
  2. Leave plenty of distance. Your brakes won’t work the same way as they do in dry conditions. One of the easiest ways to avoid colliding with your wheeling buddy in front of you is to leave ample room in front of you. You might find your rig will start to slide as you apply the brakes, and if you’re following too closely, there’s a chance of hitting the rig in front of you.
  3. Stay in control. Sliding out and doing donuts may be fun in the middle of the desert in dry conditions or through some mud, but on a snow-covered mountain trail, you can find yourself sliding over an edge very quickly. It’s important to have fun wheeling, but it’s even more important to stay safe and keep our trails safe. Leave the horseplay for a dry day.
  4. Anticipate turns. You may find that your steering isn’t exactly accurate when driving on snowy trails. It may feel delayed, or the rig may not go the direction you’re steering it towards. This usually happens when you have more momentum in one direction than your tires can drive you while turning, and can have you sliding towards trees, rocks or over an edge. Keep your speed at a manageable level so you’re not pushing through your steering.
  5. Be light on the throttle. Often times, applying too much throttle will just leave your rig stationary with the tires spinning. Using low-range, or applying lighter throttle, can give your tires the chance to grip the surface beneath them and push you onward.

Red Jeep Wrangler driving in snow on Nitto Trail Grappler tires

We hope you enjoyed these beginner tips for off-roading through snow. Winter can be one of the best times to hit your local mountain trails, and is a great way to get away from the crowds at the ski lifts for a fun day in the wilderness. Following these tips can help you make the best of your snow-wheeling adventures, and keep you safe along the way.

  • If you're looking for a good tire for the snow, you need to look at the 3PMSF-rated Nitto Nomad Grappler.
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